, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 607-619
Date: 25 Dec 2009

Effects of weather, fuel and terrain on fire severity in topographically diverse landscapes of south-eastern Australia

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Abstract

The effects of weather, terrain, fuels on fire severity were compared using remote sensing of the severity of two large fires in south-eastern Australian forests. The probability of contrasting levels of fire severity (fire confined to the understorey vs. tree canopies consumed) was analysed using logistic regression. These severities equate to extremes of fire intensity (<1,500 vs. >10,000 kW m−1), consequent suppression potential (high vs. nil) and potential adverse ecological impacts on vertebrate fauna and soils (low vs. high). Weather was the major influence on fire severity. Crown fire was absent under non-extreme weather and but more likely under extreme weather, particularly on ridges in vegetation unburnt for >10 years. Crown fire probability was very low in recently burnt vegetation (1–5 years) and increased at higher fuel ages. In all cases, fire severity was lower in valleys, probably due to effects of wind protection and higher fuel moisture in moderating fire behaviour. Under non-extreme weather, fires are likely to be suppressible and burn heterogeneously, due to the influence of topographic position, slope and fuel load. Under extreme weather, fires are influenced only by fuel and topographic position, and probability of suppression on accessible ridges will be low except in recently burnt (i.e. 1–5 year old) fuels. Topographically imposed variation may mitigate adverse ecological effects on arboreal fauna and soil erosion potential.